I’m writing 2 different blog entries today, because I need to address something that’s been weighing on me. Since I was in school, we’ve talked about it. I’ve now been working in the industry since last September, so I’ve now witnessed it.
Here’s how it goes: I ended up having one day where I met with 2 families in a row. The first family was simple and easy; the second family tested my patience. I did the arrangements easy enough, but the second family brought up what’s been bothering me about this industry: sexism.
I’ve noticed it a couple times in what people say, and how people act around me, but it hadn’t been directed at me. I’ve had male orderlies in hospitals take it upon themselves to move a body to the gurney for me, even though they were usually tiny old woman that I could’ve picked up by myself. I’ve had family members try and assist in the rolling and wrapping their loved one in a sheet when I’ve gone on a house call. That never really struck me as sexist, only that they wanted to help carrying their loved ones to the gurney, so I brushed it off, but always wondered, would you try to assist this much if I were a man?
I’ve heard a family tell their female funeral director,”we’d like a male director instead”, and since they were all busy, they were stuck with their female director. In this particular instance, it worked out fine and the family ended up loving her. Another time, same female director came into the office with tears in her eyes because the family said,”no, you have no compassion. We want a male director.” We were all mad about it, but luckily, one of our male colleagues was available to take on the family. So it’s happened around me, and I’m aware of it, but it hadn’t yet happened to me. But then it did, and it had me pissed off.
Two woman came in to make the arrangements for their father/grandfather. I was speaking mostly to the daughter, and I was building a nice rapport with the two of them. Then the granddaughter got a call and said that “uncle’s coming”, so we continued until we heard him come in the facility. The granddaughter went out to get him and lead him into the office, where upon entering, immediately asked,”how much?”. No greeting. No handshake.
I turned my attention to him and began to tell him where were at in the arrangement process, then he held up his hand and started to fish hearing aids out of his pockets. First of all, if you’re going to come in a room demanding answers to something, maybe you should be ready to hear the answer? I started my answer over, informed him where we were at, and once again his answer was,”so how much are we talking?”.
I told him the package price and informed him that it didn’t include the casket. He says,”then lets go look at the caskets”. Now, we weren’t that far from actually heading over to the showroom to do just that anyway, but I dropped what we were doing and lead the way to the caskets as requested (demanded). Once in there, he takes a quick glance around and says,”that one!”. He didn’t care about actually finding out the difference in pricing on anything; he just needed to make that decision. The daughter and granddaughter shopped around a little, and they agreed on the one uncle had chosen. But now, uncle was having second thoughts, and in Spanish, I heard him asking the ladies if he thought it was “masculine enough”, they shrugged shoulders and nodded their heads that they thought so. He turns to me and in English says,”this color is good for males?”, and I informed him that yes, it was actually a popular one for men. He said,”then yes, this one”, and we went back to the arrangement office.
As we approached the doorway, I did as I always do, and stood to the side and gestured for them to enter the room. I work here. It’s my “home” and I’m welcoming you into the room. Makes sense, right? Well uncle did a stutter step entry. Now, I’ve seen this happen a couple of times with men. I think it’s the “ladies first” mentality, and they think I need to enter the room before them, and it throws them off when I don’t. But this is my office and I’m inviting you to come back in, so “please, have a seat” *smile*.
Once back, he now won’t sit down. For the rest of the arrangement, he was standing over me. Watching everything I write down, and questioning things we weren’t even talking about. At one point, when I was asking about music selections, he said that he wanted “Mexican guitar” music. I told them that if they had someone they knew or had someone in mind, they were welcomed to have them perform, and he cut me off and says,”we don’t know anyone!” I repeated that we can contact pianists and organists or soloists for music in the church, but if they wanted something else, that was something they were going to need to find. The granddaughter nodded in understanding and was about to say,”we could find someone”, but uncle cuts her off and starts angrily speaking Spanish at both ladies.
I don’t speak Spanish, but I know some words. I caught “dinero” for money, and in the tone and they way he pointed at himself, I gathered that he yelled,”who’s paying for this?!” or “who’s got the money here?!” and both women looked away and sat quietly. He turned back to me and once again was starting to say they would like Mexican guitars, and I hear the daughter say to him in Spanish that we have piano and organ players, “no guitarra”. He finally relinquished hope, and we moved on.
While still standing over me, I continued to now ignore his gaze and speak only towards the daughter (who was signing everything anyway!), and only directed my attention at him when he asked a direct question. By the time we were wrapping up, I could see him out of the corner of my eye pulling a wallet out. I wasn’t asking for payment yet, but he seemed to be doing a, “look! I’ve got the money” gesture. I ignored it up until we were done signing papers for everything, and then he throws the card onto the clipboard as a final dickwagging, gesture of importance.
I ran the card, and I gave it back to him. I stood in the room thanking them for entrusting us with their loved one and shook their hands. The last great thing about this arrangement (for me), was standing over this man to shake his hand. I could tell he didn’t like that I was taller than him (I’m probably around 5’10” with my work shoes on, he was probably 5’7″), he tried to puff his chest a little (making him maybe a 1/4 inch taller) and gripped my hand a little extra hard. Lucky for me, I have a firm handshake as well, and I smiled politely and took his hand like nothing. I saw in his face that he was annoyed by this. Momma always says,”kill ’em with kindness” and I did just that. I smiled like it was nothing, and I escorted them to the door.
After they were gone, I let out a big sigh and spent the rest of my day starring at a computer screen and wondering: why does it have to feel like this? Why does it need to feel like such a push and pull? I understand that, culturally, things are going to be different. I grew up in a very egalitarian household, and I understand that societies are usually patriarchal in practice, but respect is respect, no? You go into a place of business to spend you hard earned money. You don’t know the ins and outs of this business, so you seek a professional. So why are you treating me like shit? If there was a man in the room telling you all this information, would you have stood over him? Would you had at least shook his hand when you entered the room? I deserve respect, and it pisses me off when I can tell it’s not given to me when it should.
I may be new at this, and I may be a little shaky at times, but I knew what I was doing with this arrangement. There was no surprises to throw me off, and I was confident in what I was doing. I don’t understand why I get the push back if I know what I’m talking about. If it makes you feel better to talk to a man, fine, talk to my boss. But if you really have that much of a problem with speaking with women, I have a newsflash for you: women make up a huge part of this industry. Hell, in school I think there was only 3 men in my graduating class, and there was maybe 3 more in the rest of the semesters. Everyone else is female. As a rough estimate I’d say there were 70 women and 6 guys in the program?
There are numerous articles stating these facts too: this one. this too. another one. And those are 3 of many articles on the subject, just a quick Google search away. And it’s not just in California, it’s across the nation. More and more women are becoming funeral professionals, so get used to us. We shake hands just as firmly, we can maneuver a body/hearse/gurney/flower car just as easily as our male counterparts.
We’re not better or worse, we’re equals, so treat us as such.